8bitrocket.com
29Sep/100

In-App Buyer’s Remorse : Will It Kill Mobile Games?

My friend told me a story yesterday about an iPhone app that his young son loves to play.  It's a virtual fish-tank.  You must use credits to feed your fish, and those are obtained by downloading "free" apps or by paying real money.  Some of those "free" apps have very easy ways to download virtual goods, some that cost as much as $9.99 or more for things like "a virtual skull".  His son wracked-up 100's of dollars of charges because it was so easy to just buy these goods and the charges went directly to his PalPal account.   The result was that his son is no longer allowed to play iPhone games or download anything. Furthermore, my friend, who has a was a huge Atari 800 fan, has a degree in computer Science, and has developed entertainment web sites for the past 12 years, now tells me that he now "hates the internet."  "I think it's over" he told me.

Yes, this is just an anecdote, but how many times do people need to get burned before they react the same way?  When every game or app acts like a Trojan Horse: a free gift at first  that eventually holds the player hostage until they pay a ransom to continue, what will the reaction be?  What happens when "virtual money" is blurred with real money?  when spending $9.99 in "game money" on a virtual skull is indistinguishable from spending $9.99 in real money that could use to buy gas, food, or an physical video game at the local Target?

When you look at the perceived value of what you get from a traditional game, and what you get from some of the more "over the top" Microtransactions, there is no comparison. For instance, I paid $29.99 for Dragon Quest IX for the DSi back in July.   Essentially the same price as three of three virtual skulls my friend go charged for.  Since July, I have played the game for 60 hours, and I'm only about 1/2 done.    That's $.50 an hour.  However, the more I play, the better the deal gets.  If I make it to 120 hours that will  be $.25 cents an hour.  With microtransactions, it's the exact opposite.  The more you play, the less perceived value you get because the more you play, the more you pay.

We have heard in the past about "Premium Purchase Programs",  shadowy, alleged arms of large social games companies that targets addicted players who will spend large sums of money in-game currency.  Some rumors place the value of single transactions at $500 or more.    You can buy an XBox 360 and many of the best games, both physical and downloadable for that amount.   If social games companies are doing this (and no one really knows for sure), there is nothing "illegal" about it.  Just like there is nothing "illegal" about selling people three virtual skulls for $9.99 each.  However, it can only work so many times.  As people get "burned", they lose their taste for the game, and for similar products.  Kids are disallowed from using the devices. Parents get more intelligent about the purchases.  Once you blaze a trail through all your perspective customers, who is left to pay for your games?

And what about fraud?  There is not much difference between "tricking" people into spending money, and outright fraud.  Stories of iTunes  fraud, abound, and while they may appear to be a separate issue from web games, are they really?  Even though the iPhone has a fancy interface, it is still essentially a web device, and the fraud seems to come from classic web based services like iTunes and PayPal.   Most people don't know or don't care to tell the difference.

Even the good guys will probably get caught-up in this.  Mochi Coins appear to be fairly fraud-free, mostly because you can't trade them.  However,  if the public is already exhausted from protecting themselves against the predators, how will they be able to tell the good from the bad?  Most people only need to be fooled once before they shy away from something altogether.

Furthermore, how long will it be before the  "Computer Security" vendors start targeting these types of transactions in their tools?   It's easy to imagine MacAfee, Trend Micro ands Norton all adding the heuristic footprints of microtransactions to the list of other risks they currently track.  Heck, if they have Google Analytics cookies marked as security issues, what keeps them from scanning HTTP transactions for calls to Mochi Coins?  Once a game or service is branded as a security risk, it is extremely difficult to change the public perception of it.  What would happen if a MacAfee warning appeared on a player's  computer screen every time a server call is made to Mochi from a web-based game?   It would be devestating.

I think the mobile/web games industry needs to get together  immediately and and create standards and practices and how and what people will be charged for games, gaming services and virtual goods.    We need to stop rewarding and lauding companies who have found the latest "trick" to take money from consumers.  Download and game distribution services need to take responsibility for the games they distribute, both the quality of the products, the content, and the ways they are being monetized. As developers, we need to stop following the latest monetization trends (i.e tricking people into big charges)as if we are always trying to find the latest Holy Grail to quick riches and profitability.  There are proven ways to make money: ads, subscriptions, shareware, reasonable microtransactions, but they all require superior products of a lasting quality that will keep your customers coming back.  That is the only way to retain the perceived value of your products, and not exhaust customers into fearfully shutting out web games for good.

24Sep/100

Google Chrome App Store Will Open Soon..

The Chromium Blog has a new story today about the Chrome App Store.    Here are the highlights:

  • Developers can (and should) sign-up for a Google Web Store Payments Account (USA only right now)
  • App Preview is now available so you can see how you app will look when the store opens
  • New store page customization options.

It looks like Google is doing a nice job getting developers prepared to distribute their apps.   We are going to continue following this story, and get some sample apps created to test the whole thing out.

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23Sep/100

SPIL Games Thinks HTML5 Will Overtake Flash by 2012: An Interview

"SPIL GAMES expect that by the end of 2012 at least 50% of all new games to be HTML5."

-Scott Johnson, SPIL Games

SPIL runs some of the biggest game portals on the planet (e.g. gamesgame.com).  As far as online web games go (mostly Flash) , their operation is MASSIVE:

  • Popularity: 130 million unique visitors per month
  • Tons of Content: 47 websites with over 4,000 free online games
  • Diversity:19 languages

We caught-up with SPIL's  External Communications Manager, Scott Johnson to talk about the games SPIL wants to see from developers, and how they feel about the future of HTML5 and Flash.

How long has SPIL been running game portals?

We’ve been in business since 2001.  We’ve been focusing on online games since 2004 which is when we introduced our first game portal.

What countries do you operate game portals?

US, France, Netherlands, Germany, UK, Spain, Brazil, Sweden, Italy, Russia, Poland, Portugal, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Argentina, Japan and Asia.  However, it’s interesting to note that people all over the world access our sites.  I believe there are only about 2 countries on Earth from where we’ve not had visitors.

Have you noticed any regional game preferences? (e.g racing games in Poland, arcade games in China, etc.).

From a big picture point of view, we see general preferences to remain consistent across the Globe.  There are some exceptions, such as online versions of card and board games being particularly popular in South America.  For instance anecdotally speaking, Dominos is far more popular in South America than in a country like Holland.

Do you develop your own games?

Yes.  We have studios in Hilversum (the Netherlands), Nuremburg (Germany) and Shanghai (China).

Do you accept submissions, or do you have staff to find content for your sites?

In addition to the games we develop internally, we also rely on the developer community to find games for our sites (and of course for our HTML5 mobile sites as well).  We work proactively and reactively with developers.

Do you shy away from games with advertisements?

We do have adver games on our sites, but we don’t accept games with in-game ads.

How do you feel about "coins" games and games that include micro-transactions?

We see micro-transactions as an important development in the industry.  We’re focusing on micro-transactions in our social games this year.  In fact, on May 14 we launched our first game featuring virtual currency:Walhalla Bingo, a chat-oriented multiplayer game available on the Hyves social network. The virtual currency (“Walhalla Credits”) supplements the players’ in-game purchasing power, allowing them to buy more bingo cards and increase their chances of winning.

And, this is of course a great way for developers to generate revenue and then continue to create even cooler games.

How important are API integrations and for things like high score in your decisions for games to include on your portals?

Very important.  It depends on the game, of course, but high scores is very popular with players and keeps them coming back.

Do  "easy to learn" games get preference because instructions need less localization for your your portals in multiple languages?

First and foremost we focus on casual games, e.g.,  games that are easy to play, but not easy to master; games that are accessible, etc.  Therefore these games don’t necessarily require lengthy instructions.  Having said that, we don’t shy away from games with lots of text instructions.  Basically, it comes down to the following when choosing a game: if we feel it’s a game that will fit the needs of our users we’ll feature it.

How do you feel about the future of Flash?

What we see is that HTML5 will evolve as the new standard in mobile (and eventually browser-based) game development.  At the moment most games are based on Flash.  However, we see that to truly take advantage of the opportunity of mobile gaming (and eventually all browser-based games), developers and publishers need to focus on HTML5 for the future.   This will ensure that gamers have the best gaming experience no matter where they are or what platform they want to play games on.

You have started to send out feelers for HTML5 content.  What prompted this development?

As you know, we started out publishing gaming websites.  This went very well, but we soon realized that the game experience of our players doesn’t begin and end on our websites.  People want to duplicate the experience they have on our sites on other platforms, especially social networks and mobile devices.  For instance, when it comes to mobile we have seen more than 1 million people try to access our sites from a mobile device.

So, the interest of users on mobile was clear and we started thinking about how we can meet this interest.  However, we quickly saw a gap to do this.  Specifically, the full potential of mobile gaming for both developers and end users has been hampered by different protocols, operating systems, and platform-approval processes within the mobile world. Games and apps need to be constantly redesigned to meet the technical specifications of all these platforms which cause hassle and extra resource for developers.  Plus, players were forced to download a game from app stores and face installation hassles.

We wanted to ensure that all mobile gamers no matter what phone or operating system they used could have instant access to the games they want to play.  That led us to realize that HTML5 was the natural choice to focus our mobile plans.  It’s interesting for us as a company because we pride ourselves on being open, bringing great games to everyone no matter where they are or what platform they want to use.  HTML5 redefines the user experience because it removes the barriers to entry for mobile users to easily access and play games whenever and on whichever mobile platform they choose.   The promise of HTML5 is that if a game is developed in HTML 5 it can be easily used on any mobile device, across all social platforms, our portals or any PC [NOTE: depending on upgrade of future devices/browsers].  And, the quality of the game experience will be the same no matter what platform people use.  It brings to life the fact that gaming is everywhere.

Do you have plans for HTML5 APIs for high-scores, user-accounts, multi-player, etc?

As I mentioned HTML5 is a huge focus for us.  You can expect to hear lots more from us around it, but unfortunately, I’m not able to reveal anything that’s not yet been announced.

What excites you the most about HTML5?

It brings the promises of the web to reality.  Specifically:

  • It means apps can be developed once and deployed everywhere, saving developers time and money in development.  This will enable them to focus on developing compelling HTML5 web games.
  • It enables developers to update or improve their games and instantly make their games available via the web.
  • For developers the initial investment for an HTML5 app is around zero and the learning curve is minimal.
  • Instead of trying to develop for a specific platform, developers could choose to create a compelling HTML5 web application.
  • Exempts developers from having to deal with startup costs and approval processes.

Additionally, HTML5 redefines the user experience because it removes the barriers to entry for mobile users to easily access and play games whenever and on whichever mobile platform they choose.  If a game is developed in HTML5 it can be used on the majority of modern mobile devices.  And, the quality of the game experience will be the same no matter what platform people use.  It brings to life the fact that gaming is everywhere.

What has the response been to you your HTML5 game contest?

Since we just launched it a few weeks back, we’re not yet ready to reveal any developments here.  But, stay tuned!

What are your plans for mobile gaming?

Mobile gaming is a huge focus area for us and HTML5 is the center of our mobile gaming strategy.   Right now all our portals have a mobile version.  This was launched on 31 August, 2010 and we’ve been updating these with new games.  We’ve also just launched the developer contest where we’re offering cash prizes every month for 6 months for the best HTML5 game.  And, we’re really trying to talk about and champion HTML5 as much as we can because we believe in it so much.  While the industry is on the early side of this great HTML5 development, we here at SPIL GAMES expect that by the end of 2012 at least 50% of all new games to be HTML5.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to hardcore Flash and HTML5 game developers?

Well, I said a lot above J.  But, we’re always thrilled to talk with developers and they can count on hearing us talk more and more about HTML5.

With 130 million unique visitors across the world on 41 websites and a ranking as a Top 60 most visited online property in the world (according to comScore Media Metrix) we are the leader in online gamer.

At our core though we want to unite the world in play.  This motivates all that we do!

22Sep/100

Atari 7800 Expansion Module + An Interview With Kurt Vendel

Yesterday, Legacy Engineering announced a pre-order for their newest product, The Atari 7800 Expansion Module.  Pre-orders receive a  10% discount (for a limited time).  The Atari 7800 Expansion Module includes:

  • Built in High Score keeping capability (compatible with approx 20 existing titles and any HSC coded games/programs in the future)
  • 128K of Program Available Memory
  • POKEY audio/interfacing IC Chip for enhanced audio/voice synthesis and I/O Interfacing capabilities.
  • 2nd Audio Processor for higher end Arcade sound effects and music
  • SIO (Serial I/O) Port for potential future use of Atari 8bit computer peripherals such as Disk Drives, Printers and Modems.
  • 15 PIN Port for potential future use with a detachable computer keyboard.
  • Will come professionally boxed in original Silver styled "Atari XL" type box with extensive User Guide and Technical Data manuals.

Since we are big fans of their work, we caught-up with Legacy Engineering's Kurt Vendel and got him to answer a few questions for us.

How is this product related to the Atari 7800 High Score Cartridge?

I've been asked more and more over the years if I'd consider doing another run of High Score carts.  I originally made 100 and then did a small 25 pc run a few years later, but never did anymore since, so I thought it would be good to do a new run but then started to think about doing more and the Exp Module became the result of cramming more into the design and then actually taking drawings I bought from a former Atari Industrial designers for a piggyback module case and using its design for the Expansion module.

128K ram is a massive amount for the 7800.  What do you think developers will do with it?

I am hoping that will do more complex backgrounds, perhaps larger game maps - like for instance the new Failsafe game (Countermeasure follow up) could've benefited greatly from all that memory.   Also having that much ram means more of the game can be loaded and ready and it will offload from the MARIA and allow finer scrolling and other more complex games with less cpu overhead.

Do you already have developers ready to make games using this product?

Actually when the high score cart 3rd round went to a high score/pokey idea I then starting asking for input and then decided the best persons to tap would be the most active developers on the 7800 platform, so I pulled 3 of the top developers (now a 4th has just joined in after the Pre-Orders started) to basically ask them - what do THEY want from an enhancement device and after some starts, stops and a lot of push-backs on wishlists, and going a little overboard, it was settled on the high score, adding pokey for audio and I/O, adding RAM in multiple banks and then adding in a Yamaha sound chip used in many Atari arcade machines as well.   Basically the enhancement had to stick to one specific design criteria - it had to be feasible in 1984-1986 if done then.   So everything feature wise being incorporated into it couldn't been done during the heyday of the 7800.

How does the current "Atari" feel about these kinds of products?

I've never directly asked, except for the USB joysticks.  At the time their head of licensing told me on the joystick that "it didn't fit with what Atari wanted to do with its name"   Needless to say, I was flabbergasted at the statement - that's like saying McDonalds doesn't really want to use the Golden Arches anymore or Coca Cola is going to sell its products in milk cartons.    Apparently that person is no longer with Atari anymore :-)

I think Atari see's what I have been doing as a very positive thing for them in an indirect way.   I am probably one of their biggest cheerleaders and by bringing out such products to the fanbase and the nascent cottage industry hobbyist coders who in turn further keep Atari's torch lit.   I feel I'm doing them a great and positive benefit by injecting new life and excitement into their legacy of products.

Have you been able to interest Atari in a "Flashback 3"?

Yes from an interest and excitement standpoint.   Even during a recent conference call with Nolan who is know a part of Atari on their Board and part of the Creative Team, he even liked the product.     Funding is the issue, no one seems to want to invest in the "Risk" side of the product, even though, in my opinion, the "Reward" side has proven itself already with the Flashback 1 and Flashback 2 consoles.   The key is distribution through major channels as the previous products were sold.   The 2+ console update was direct sales promotion and I don't think the proper momentum was put behind it, plus the retail price and high shipping cost turned a lot of potential buyers away unfortunately.

What are some of Legacy Engineering's best selling products?

The USB Controllers have been a phenomenal success and sell very strong, even in todays tough economic climate.      Some custom versions have been done exclusively for some of our partner Resellers like Reflex Audio and now Thinkgeek has recently signed up to also sell our joysticks.     A new Arcade32 interface for MAME builders just came out this past week with 2 player inputs and trackball/spinner support all on one interface and that is picking up steam.    A new product coming out for the holidays is the "Dualer" which is a 2 port joystick/paddle interface that also has a built in SD-CARD reader so you can keep all of your emulators, and ROM's on it, take it with you to work, school or a friends house and use any original Atari joysticks or paddles with it (for those who don't have old Atari joysticks we will have a line of low cost, high quantity Atari compatible joysticks coming out as well too.)

Have you seen the plans for the "Commodore 64" PC?   Do you know of any plans to do something like that with an Atari casing?"

Something is already well into the works and I don't want to say too much on it at this time....

Why do you think the Atari 7800 fails to get the respect it deserves?

The 7800 was a truly amazing console in my opinion, great graphics, built in 2600 compatibility, a line of never before seen expansion devices.   Timing of the sale of Atari killed it and it never got to hit its stride in 1984 as it should've.    Negotiations and payments to GCC from the Tramiels held it up for almost a year and then getting games and such also negotiated for it held it up longer so it wasn't able to hit the scene until 1986 and faced with Nintendo and Sega, and crippled by Nintendo's exclusive sign up deals with software houses, the 7800 never got a fair shake in the marketplace.  Sega didn't have this problem as much as it had its own library of untapped, never released to the home market arcade titles to survive on with its SMS system.     The glaring flaw in the 7800 is obviously its sound, but that aside, its graphics and capabilities were superior to the NES, and I think todays Homebrewers, these small independent individuals - coding, not for profit, but for their love of the console - have been proving this true over the last 3 or so years, releasing new games that are just amazing.    With the added horsepower of the Expansion Module, we could see a totally new resurgence of the 7800 and see games and titles never before thought possible, but done with technology and designs that were realistic and obtainable back in 1984-1986.

Do you know of any legal or technical reason why Atari can't release 7800 or 8-bit games to platforms like Xbox Live arcade, handhelds, etc?

They are already releasing games for the 2600 and arcade on Xbox Gameroom, it wouldn't surprise me if you start to see 5200 titles show up on their service in the future and who knows, maybe 7800 titles will follow not too long there after, at least that is what a little birdie tells me ;-)

What's next for Legacy Engineering?

Baby steps...    After being burned severely by my designs and work being stolen for the Gene Simmons Kiss guitar controller for Guitar Hero, I decided that it was best for me to invest in Legacy Engineering being not just a design firm, but a manufacturer.   Its been rough, but I am taking a cue from Microsoft in a sense... if you look back 10-15 years ago, no one wouldn't ever thought Microsoft would be a top contender in home gaming consoles.    They started out small - doing game controllers and accessories.   They learned and worked their way up.   I'm not saying in 10 years I'll be designing the next Xbox720 or the PS5, but I am hoping that my experience as a day to day video game enthusiast, mixed with my passion for design will continue to fuel and inspire Legacy Engineering to go on to build bigger and more ambitious products that fill a missing need for gamers, and as I try with all my products, have some fun hidden surprises for people to find and enjoy.

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20Sep/100

An Interview With Electrotank’s Jobe Makar

Jobe Makar is is one of the people who inspired 8bitrocket.com the most in the past 10 years.  From his multiple Flash game books, to his 100's of games,  Jobe has reached a level of success matched only by a very few.   We caught-up with Jobe last week and tried to pick his brain to find the secret to his success.

How are you Jobe Makar?

I’m doing well now that the brutal summer heat is finally relenting!

You are one of the true pioneers of Flash game development.  Can you estimate how many games you have created over the years?

That is definitely a tough number to come up with. My best guess is between 200 and 300 games, where maybe 25% of them are multiplayer. I know that is a pretty big number, but I’ve been at it for around 12 years now. I remember when I first started creating Flash games I only focused on games that I could make in a 1 or 2 day period. After years of that I felt confident enough to approach bigger games.

What is your education background?

I attended East Carolina University for 4 years of undergraduate work, and North Carolina State University for 3 years graduate school. My focus the whole way was physics. In graduate school I was pursuing a PHD. I finished the course work and moved into the research phase. After 6 months or so into that phase I was so burned out on physics and school that I left and started my career in Flash! I didn’t have any formal education in computer science or programming. Luckily for me at the time (we’re talking Flash 3 / Flash 4) the scripting was super easy to learn for anyone. As Flash grew over the years so did my programming knowledge.

You have published several books on Flash Game development.  What books have you written and can you tell us about your latest book on multi-player game design?

The first book on game programming that I authored was Macromedia Flash MX Game Design Demystified, published in 2002. There were a few books on Flash games already on the market but they didn’t touch on a lot of the topics that I found interesting – like physics, collision detection, and multiplayer. In that book I tried to cover a wide variety of interesting topics. It was well received!

I updated that book in 2004 and it was released as Macromedia Flash MX 2004 Game Design Demystified. Unfortunately, the publisher wanted it out the door in an extremely short turnaround time – maybe it was 2 months, I don’t exactly recall. Due to the aggressive deadline I was forced to take on a co-author (Ben W, a good guy!) and just crank out the new version. I wasn’t happy with this release because the book was less cohesive, which is common with multiple authors that don’t have time to collaborate properly.

My latest book, ActionScript for Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds, was a book I really wanted to write. The publisher gave me enough time to write it and I think it turned out well. At the time, there were very few books on multiplayer available, and none that focused on Flash at all. This niche book filled that gap and has been getting excellent reviews! And in May of 2010 it won the Flash Book of the Year award at Flash and the City!

What do you like the best about working in Flash?

Over the last couple of months I started dabbling in Silverlight, XNA, Unity, and Java. While I’ve always thought Flash was easy to work with, I never really appreciated how much so until now. Jump into XNA and try making something as simple as a text field that lets you enter your name. In Flash that takes seconds, in XNA you could spend hours. So I really love how Flash identifies certain things that a developer will need to do, and makes those things easy.

Do you think Adobe has made the right choices with Flash and CS5?

That is difficult to say. I guess I have a few responses. The non-helpful response is this: I rarely use the Flash IDE anymore. I only use it to build assets that can be sucked into other projects at compile time. So in a sense, the state of Flash CS5 doesn’t affect me much.

But now I’ll comment on a few specific things. I was on the Flash CS5 prerelease and was very excited to use the iPhone packager. I fully supported Adobe’s decision to integrate it into CS5 and loved that they were creative enough to figure out a way to get Flash on the iPhone. However, with compilation times of several minutes the workflow using this feature can be debilitating. The Android packager on the other hand is pretty fast and is refreshing by comparison!

I know there are other new features in Flash CS5 but I haven’t really explored them much. Adobe has been pushing TLF but I haven’t touched it.

How do you work with Flash? Do you use the Flash IDE or do you prefer to use another development platform?

I use Flash Develop as my IDE. I think it has probably been years since I’ve been involved with a project whose code was compiled by the Flash IDE itself. Getting out of using FLAs for everything was a difficult decision for me since that was all I knew. But once I made that jump my productivity increased a lot. Compilation times are shorter and debugging is easier.

Electrotank has grown into a pretty sizable company.  Do you still make single-player Flash games, or do you spend most of your time on multi-player games?

These days I’m spending a lot of time working on the ElectroServer API, documentation, and creating examples. But when I get the opportunity to work on a game it is almost always multiplayer. While I love working on multiplayer games, I’d like to work on a few single player games as a change of pace.

Electroserver 4 had been out for a couple years now.  How has it been received by the Flash game industry?

Very well! It is used to power some of the most popular virtual worlds and multiplayer games out there. Since we use ElectroServer ourselves we have been able to shape it into a product that we know other developers would find useful. And they have for about 8 years now!

Can you explain what EUP is?

EUP (Electrotank Universe Platform) is platform for developing virtual worlds and social games. It is a massive system with features and flexibility that I can barely scratch the surface on here – but let me try. Imagine all of the virtual worlds out there and the features that they share – things like avatars, inventory, stores, environments/maps, questing, achievements, customizable rooms,etc. EUP makes all of these features generically available so that they can be implemented however you want for your particular game. The features can be customized and their abilities can be extended. There is an advanced system in place for easily adding client/server transactions whose code is auto-generated. If you need to add new properties to some object (like a purchasable item), the property can be added in place and it is automatically added and is accessible by client and server code. EUP even has solutions in place for creating UGC (user generated content) that can be used however you want – like by selling the content as an item, gifting it, or even having an avatar wear the custom item.

In addition to all of the above, EUP brings with it a suite of more than a dozen useful editor and content management tools – which we call the Tool Suite. The Tool Suite includes tools to do things like build and manage world maps, manage items for sale in stores, and even to manage all of the localization content for your game. In fact, we just found out this week that the Tool Suite was nominated for an Adobe MAX award!

What do you have planned for ElectroServer 5?

We’ve been working hard on the this next release. I’ll speak to two of our major new features.

1. Multiplatform APIs

Over the years our server has been focused on supporting Flash clients only. It has become clear in the last year or two that developers of other growing platforms really need a product like ElectroServer. So, we have rewritten the entire API from the ground up and have implemented it across many languages: AS2, AS3, Objective-C, Java, and C#. This allows developers of apps for Android, iPhone, Windows Phone 7, Unity, Java, and Flash to use ElectroServer! We’ve made the API identical across all platforms to make it easier for developers who develop for multiple platforms.

2. UDP

We’ve added UDP support for games that need to support the highest message rate. Typically UDP is used in games where position updates are sent as fast as possible, like first person shooters. If you’re creating a fast-paced twitch game, then UDP will help you get there.

There are many more new or enhanced features as well, so come check it out!

Can you give budding Flash game developers any advice about how to make a living in the industry?

It is an exciting time for game developers with some relatively new platforms to develop for. As much as a cliché as this sounds, I recommend that you work hard and continually learn. Don’t expect to be successful overnight. And while you’re starting out don’t be afraid to accept low paying jobs. They’ll help you gain experience and build your resume and portfolio. Attend conferences or developer community events. If you get yourself out there then opportunities will present themselves.

What do you think is the future of Flash and web gaming?

I think that we’ll see Flash show up on more devices and we’ll see performance gains. To have Flash run well on small devices Adobe will need to invest more in the runtime performance of the Flash player.

As far as web gaming – keep your eye on Unity. There are a lot of big brands focusing on the development of Unity games. Unity games can be played across many platforms, including Web, iPhone, Wii, and soon Android.

Do you play games yourself? What are some of your favorites?

I rarely play games. I spend most of my free time programming games, playing tennis, or watching movies. With that said, there are some games over the years that I’ve really enjoyed. Among them are Super Mario Bros, Jedi Knight, Command & Conquer: Generals, and Snood. It is kind of an odd list, but those are a few of the games I’ve really gotten into.

What's next for Jobe Makar?

While I love Flash, I’ve enjoyed branching out into some other languages and platforms recently. I think I’ll continue down this path for a while to see where it goes! I’m currently working on a first person shooter game with a Unity client. I’m programming the Java server code portion, and someone else is handling the Unity client. This is my first time as “the server guy”. And, s the server guy I need to start looking down on client programmers. J.

You can follow Jobe via Twitter here: http://twitter.com/jobemakar

18Sep/100

AtariMania.com has full PDF editions of all Atari User Magazines

The awesome, though seemingly under-appreciated site, Atari Mania, has hand-scanned (a lot of f***ing work I might add)  versions of the entire 43 issue series of the UK-based Atari User magazine. This is of special interest to USA-Based Atari 8-bit computer fans because just as the 8-bit range was dying here, it was seeing a large resurgence in the UK (circa 1985).

These issues of Atari User Magazine have a unique perspective and a slightly different focus than the Antic, Analog, and Atari Explorer 8-bit dedicated magazines from the USA.  For example they tend to give hard sales numbers and focus on the industry as a whole in their editorials. Not that Antic (for example) didn't do this to some extent, but I remember searching far and wide for this type of information in the USA-based publications and coming up short most of the time.

Like its American cousins though, there is plenty of 8-bit coverage with the "gathering storm" of ST related editorial beginning to rear its head even in the beginning issues. They never waver from the 8-bit  though and it is very interesting to see the progression in coverage until the final issues in late 1988 - just as the Atari ST was storming through the UK and beyond (not yet realizing they were about to be pummeled by an Amiga wallop, but that was a year or two out).

From reading these final issues, the decision to finally compete on even game-playing terms  with The Amiga by releasing the powerful STE range was far too late in the game to have any significant impact.  The advent of the cheaper and more powerful consoles (such as the Megadrive/Genesis) certainly helped seal the coffin on both the 8-bits and the ST range with extra magical wax.

During the later years a "pull-out" section called "Atari ST User" was included to dedicate coverage to the new line of 16-bit computers. This was very much like how the USA-based "Start" magazine begin inside issues of Antic magazine.  The Atari ST User name would be sold to "Page 6" to be used in a dedicate Atari ST User Magazine, simply called "Atari ST User".

Back to the 8-bits, one very interesting thing about these magazines is the sheer number of UK-based game titles that I had never heard of for the 8-bit range. Atarimania has rom/exe/and disk versions of most Atari 8-bit software, so I found myself digging into my emulator and loading up a few gems that I had just learned about. Maybe I'll make an HTML5 or AS3 version of one of them if I find the time.

Atari Mania also has a page full of other Atari-related publications for your viewing pleasure.

17Sep/100

Top-10 Game Predictions for 2010-2011

It's prediction time again.  First, we need to run-down our 2009-2010 predictions and see how we did.  Here they are:

10. Microtransactions In Flash Games Will Struggle. Too many games, too few people willing to pay. The most successful service will be Mochicoins, but it will still struggle with quality vs. what people are willing to pay for. However, a few very well made and successful games will point towards the future.

This is pretty much true.  Money is being made on Microtransactions, but most of it is on Facebook.   Many developers are still struggling.

9. Adobe will announce a new version of Flash that makes AS3 much more accessible for artists and designers. Also, real 3D support will be finally added to Flash. At the same time, Silverlight 3 will start making in-roads, but mostly for corporate applications, on the 360, and on Sharepoint web sites.

Well, there was a new version of Flash, but 3D support is still not really incorporated.  That may be in the NEXT version.   CS5 is much more accessible for designers though, so we did OK.

8. Atari will officially do something on the web in regards to their classic game library. It will be too little too late.

They DID, and we were mostly correct!

7. Web Surfing on the 360. Microsoft will open-up the 360 to web browsing…but without Flash support (just like the iPhone).  However, Silverlight will be supported. Silverlight web games will become a new “home brew” dev platform for 360 games.

Hmm.  Not yet, but they have opened-up more apps for the 360.  I still think Silverlight support is going to make it onto the 360 very soon.

6. Even though it has robust Flash and HTML 5 support, the Palm Pre will be a dud (at least in the USA into the foreseeable future). Sprint is is the only carrier right now, plus the CrackBerry is killing in corporate market, while the iPhone has a lock on consumers mind share and handheld phone gaming. That leaves early adopters and Sprint customers.

Nailed it.

5. Also, even though there was nerd backlash, Diablo 3 will be released and it will generate a huge, massive, amazing ocean of cash for Blizzard. A new “Ultima” branded single player Diablo-like game will be announced by Electronic Arts. Sadly, Richard Garriott will not be involved.

Ooops.  These things have to be RELEASED first.

4. A new console from a MAJOR company will be announced. It will be download-only and will support games from multiple platforms (Flash, PC, emulated, etc.). This could also come in the form of set-top box that “rents” games ala Netflix directly over the internet.

The "download" only console was the new PSP and it was a dud.

3. The PC will fall even further away as a platform for AAA game titles, but indie and web games using Flash, Unity and and Instant Action will pick-up much of the slack.

Pretty much true.

2. The Atari/Bushnell Movie will take a drastic turn in tone when Will Farrell replaces Leonardo Decaprio in the lead role, and Seth Rogan is cast as Al Alcorn. However, it will be nothing compared the switch in tone for the “Asteroids” movie when Universal casts Jack Black as “Medium Sized Rock”.

The rumors are still out there... :)

1. A great new book on AS3 Flash Game Development will be published. You all will love it and will buy a copy. Also, that “How To Create Blog Posts That Hypnotize And Influence Your Readers” e-book I bought last year will finally pay off.

Many of you loved it,  some not so much.  Still, it was a rewarding experience.

Now for the new predictions for 2010-2011.

10.  Flash Games Everywhere!

Google TV, the Google Web App Store, Flash games on Android, Flash conversion on the iPhone, Flash player 10.1, etc.    Flash games will take-over much of the non-core game industry in the next 12 months.

9. Diminished Power Of Flash Game Portals

With Flash games everywhere, the power and influence of Flash game portals will diminish somewhat.  Look for some consolidation (e.g. Kongregate + New Grounds), and for portals to start their own development arms, as they, themselves, branch to mobile, Facebook ,and other platforms.

8. Silverlight Down, HTML5 Up

Silverlight will fall even further out of the game space, while HTML5+Canvas games grow in number and sophistication.  The inclusion of Canvas support in I.E. 9 will help fuel this fire.  However, for Microsoft and Sharepoint shops, and on the Windows 7 phone, Silverlight will grow in influence and usage. Silverlight will still be viable, but focused on Microsoft platforms.

7. Atari/Asteroids Movies Will Still Live In Development Hell

The Nolan Bushnell "Atari Movie" and the Universal "Asteroids" movie will still be in development hell, far from any kind of production or release date.

6. Atari Will Mine Their Classic Catalog Even Further

Atari will continue to mine their classic game catalog, and finally dig out titles that remain unreleased on modern platforms such as remakes of games like "Yar's Revenge" , "Air Sea Battle", "Canyon Bomber", plus coin-op games like "Food Fight" and "Hi-Way" and "Qwak".  I'd also look for the Flashback 3 to finally get a release, maybe even as a mobile device.

5. More Retro-Style Games On Downloadable Platforms

With games like "Scott Pilgrim" on the Xbox 360, we will see many more classic looking and playing games on the downloadable game platforms.   Unlike "Retro Evolved" games, these games will hit all the nuances of classic games, and revel in them.   At the same time, retro-evolved style games will continue to be created at a rapid pace.

4. Big Fanchises Will Falter

At least two well-known franchises expected to move "tonnage" will falter.  Neither will be PC-based, but both will put their respective publishers on the brink of bankruptcy.

3. The Mac Will Rise

Pushed buy Apple's moves in gaming, the Mac will rise as a game machine. Some big PC games will see simultaneous and possibly targeted Mac releases.   Publishers will see good sales for Mac games because the user-base is more willing to pay for software.  Look for Mac sales to edge-up again and challenge the PC's dominance.

2.  Quality Advertising Supported Games Will Start Disappearing

High-quality games that use in-game ads for revenue will start to trickle in the next 12 months.  Coins games, mobile platforms, etc. will dominate instead.  Look for more "demo" style games that hint at game-play instead of being full games themselves.    Tiny developers will still use in-game ads, but mostly for the other services they provide (high-scores, social layers, etc), and not really for the revenue they generate.

1. The 3DS Will Fail, But The Wii2 Will Shock The Gaming World

I'm going out on a limb here, but I believe the 3DS will be failure in the USA.  It will be too expensive, and will not be able to compete with the iPhone and Android and mobile gaming platforms.    However, it will have some great games and be a cult hit.  It will dominate in Japan.

As the Xbox 360 and PS3 transform into the Wii with their own motion controls, Nintendo will announce the Wii2 in 2011.  While the system will miss the Christmas 2011 season, there is good reason for it.  The Wii2 will include some revolutionary technology that only Nintendo could put together.  HD+ visuals, Blue-Ray, 3D, massive amounts of solid-state storage, mind-control, an anti-piracy device utilizing buyer's DNA/retina scanning, holograms, virtual reality, full-body scanning motion control, time travel and weather control are just some of the features that are possible.

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What are your predictions? Tell us in the forums:
http://www.8bitrocket.com/forum/movies-tv-sports-etc/you-top-10-game-predictions-for-2010-2011/#p87

16Sep/100

A look at the IE 9 HTML5 Canvas Spec

With much curiosity I took a look at the recently published IE 9 HTML5/CSS3 spec specifically to find Canvas support information. Its no secret that Steve and I are deep into a book for O'Reilly on the Canvas and IE has been a major sticking point as we progress through the chapters.

Here is the most interesting thing  I found in this document the MSDN site.

"Internet Explorer 9 Beta introduces support for the canvas element, using the 2D Canvas drawing API as its only supported context. Like all the graphics in Internet Explorer 9 Beta, canvas is hardware that is accelerated by using Windows and the GPU."

This is a very important point as we have seen some good, but not overly great performance from the Chrome, Safari, and Firefox browsers. I don't know if any of those offer GPU support, but it will be nice to test out the apps we have been working on to see how they perform on IE 9. One place that performance is not very good is Mobile Safari. Hopefully the mobile version of IE9 will offer better performance on other mobile platforms.

In the coming weeks we will test drive the IE9 Beta and report back how the performance ranks against the other Canvas enabled browsers.


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15Sep/100

What ever happened to Steve Moraff?

His name might not spark wild-eyed fascination with many retro gaming enthusiasts, but Steve Moraff was a little bit of a legend in his own time. When we first got a PC (non-Atari machine) in the early 1990's, we jumped on the early CD-Rom craze.  The best use of CDs at that time was for "shovel-ware" compilations of share-ware games. One developer out-shined all but Apogee and Id. The developer's name  was Moraffware.  Started by Steve Moraff  in the mid-80's, Moraffware would pioneer shareware and especially the shareware  RPG genre on DOS machines.

As we plunged into the the various piles of shareware games we found on the shovel-ware cds, Steve Moraff's name kept surfacing on some very nice titles. He was one of the first developers anywhere to use SVGA graphics so his titles were always colorful and unique to play.

Moraff's Revenge was one of the first 3D RPGs on the PC Dos platform. These early PCs didn't have the raw speed on an Atari ST or Amiga, but Steve made some great games given the limitations of the hardware.

I remember some other various Moraff games such as a beautiful Arkanoid clone and probably the best Mahjongg game of its' time.  It seems that Steve has shifted his focus to Mahjongg almost entirely. His current site focuses of on this game type, but also has pages (and the ability to purchase) his classic RPG games:

Moraff's World

Moraff's revenge

and probably his best game,

Moraff's Dungeons of the Unforgiven

There is also a World Of Games link on his site that lists some of the other  classic and relatively recent games he has created.

It looks like Steve is doing well. I would certainly like to see some of his classic RPGs re-made for today's machines, but with DosBox or Boxster, the originals can still be enjoyed today.

(8bitjeff is Jeff D. Fulton)

14Sep/100

Flash CS5 + Project Panel + Developer View = Pretty good way to code

I have been a Flash Develop devotee for that last 3 years. Even after I bought my Mac I made sure to install and keep Parallels updated as to not lose the feature-set I love so - Flex asset compile-time embedding, custom class and package recognition,  a unified project work space, and the simplicity lacking in some of the Eclipse-Focused IDE options. I have always found that development environment inside the Flash IDE to be a little lacking, but I really like the design tools the IDE offers a well-rounded game developer.

I have been using both together for a number of years. I never bought a copy of CS4, so I had been using the Flash Develop / CS3 combination for quite some time. In CS3 I would create assets and save them out as SWF  files and in Flash Develop I would create my AS3 Flex project and string the whole thing together by loading (at run-time)  or embedding assets at compile-time.

This was a great way of working until last week when I updated Parallels and for some reason Flash Develop stopped being able to work with my Mac folders. This forced me to create separate Flash Develop project folders on my Parallels Windows partition and copy the files back to the Mac to be able to work on them in the Flash IDE.

Luckily I purchased a shiny new copy of Flash CS5 last week and decided to see if I could replicate the basic features of Flash Develop in the IDE. First I found the almost hidden "Project" Panel and created a new AS3 project. I created a .fla in the root and a simple package structure for my new project starting there. Flash CS5 figured out the structure right away and even created new class files with the right package name! Score!

Next I switched the IDE to the "developer" view which got rid of the timeline and replaced it with the Project Panel, Debug window and large editor screen. My final test was to see if I could create a custom class in the new package structure and have the IDE recognize it. I placed a new class file into the package, and then in my Main.as I created an instance of it. Without having to include the package or the class, the IDE recognized it and I was able to see the constructor (but not it's parameters). I could  see the public properties and methods as well as the parameters to them though (including the constructor) after I created an instance of the class.

This was enough to get me encouraged and moving in the right direction. I will continue to play with it, but for now it gives me most of what I could want in a single Flash (not Flex) development environment.  I will still be using my trusty Flash Develop environment for pure Flex or AS3 projects that don't require heavy IDE involvement.

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